I hope to make this an ongoing series looking at books and movies that I have been meaning to read/watch and have now got round to. What makes these stories special is that they have a non-mainstream sensibility and may not be overtly commercial, but have managed to find a place within the collective consciousness.
The first book I want to look at is Room by Emma Donoghue. A prize-winning novel about a woman and her young son trapped in a room and occasionally visited by their captor.
The book is narrated by a five-year-old boy who has known nothing of the world apart from the room he has always lived in. As far as he's concerned nothing else exists and this is quite a bold concept. The combination of child narrator and very restricted environment means there is not much raw material to play with, which means squeezing out as much story as she does takes a great deal of skill. The danger is it can end up feeling gimmicky.
The limited scope can quite easily put people off. A lot of time is spent going into great detail about fairly mundane matters. Within the context of the story you can see why she does this, but you can also see why it might put people off. In addition, the horrific nature of her confinement is not particularly appealing for someone looking for a fun read.
Live up to the hype?
It is well written, but feels like a novella padded out to novel length. The narrator is meant to be five years old but sounds a lot older. To some extent this is a conceit you need since a book really written in the voice of a five-year-old would be practically unreadable. But it still tends to be jarring at certain points. Another problem was that it had the quality of a mother who claims her child is ‘so advanced for his age’, only in this case he really was and so it smacked of wish fulfilment.
I also found the female character to be a bit Mary Sue-ish. She is the victim who has no way out and nobly does the best she can to protect her son. Superficially this is admirable, if a bit simplistic for a novel. Metaphorically, and all stories have a degree of subtext to them, it seems to be a reflection on how women are treated by men. How abusive relationships are dealt with by the women in them and how society views those women. Again the approach is very simplistic, very black and white, and I felt like I was being lectured to at certain points.
Towards the end of the novel there is an escape which is so ludicrous as to be laughable. This added to the feeling that this was more allegory than narrative fiction. It was like the writer needed the child to escape so she just glossed over a rough outline of how it might have happened. That simplistic approach is both the strength of the book, making it easy to read, and its weakness, making it easy to dismiss.
Strong prose, but a simplistic view of a complex situation that didn't merit the length it took to tell it. Viewing it from the perspective of a child also made it too narrow a view of events. I can see why it would appeal to some readers and be completely unappealing to others. Ultimately I didn't really believe it.
Have you read this book? What did you think?